The basics: Ali Smith imagines a man comes to a dinner party as a guest of another and stays. He takes salt, pepper and his silverware to their guest room, where they then begin to slide narrow food under the door to him.
My thoughts: While the set up to the story is intriguing, it immediately begs many questions. Why not break the door down? Why not call the police? Smith addresses these issues with some success, but it's safe to say practicality may not be the point in this hyper-realistic novel. I felt it to be both in the real world and outside of it, and this tension was fascinating.
This novel is split into four sections: There, but, for, and the. Each section is wildly different in tone and character, but they do all form a somewhat cohesive whole. The first section was perhaps my favorite, as it sets the tone for the novel. It's an introduction into the world of this novel, which felt both real and unreal at times:
"Imagine the relief there’d be, in just stepping through the door of a spare room, a room that wasn’t anything to do with you, and shutting the door, and that being that. There’d be a window, wouldn’t there? Were there any books in there? What would you do all day? What would happen if you did just shut a door and stop speaking? Hour after hour after hour of no words. Would you speak to yourself? Would words just stop being useful? Would you lose language altogether? Or would words mean more, would they start to mean in every direction, all somersault and assault, like a thuggery of fireworks? Would they proliferate, like untended plantlife? Would the inside of your head overgrow with every word that has ever come into it, every word that has ever silently taken seed or fallen dormant? Would your own silence make other things noisier? Would all the things you’d ever forgotten, all layered there inside you, come bouldering up and avalanche you?"Did Ali Smith just make me think fondly of going to a dinner party and locking myself in a bedroom? See, she's brilliant. One of the best parts of this novel was the experience going on inside my own head as I read it. 'What is she doing?' I'd think. 'How will this section come back around.' 'Ah....' It's a curious novel, and it's one I have a hard time thinking of in parts now that the parts have formed a whole. It's smart. It's funny. It's wise. It's curious. There's an air of loneliness and sadness at times too. This novel is both so many things and so few, and it's one that must be experienced for itself.
Favorite passage: "Google is so strange. It promises everything, but everything isn’t there. You type in the words for what you need, and what you need becomes superfluous in an instant, shadowed instantaneously by the things you really need, and none of them answerable by Google."
The verdict: While I am undeniably in awe of Ali Smith and this work of literature on a critical level, I must confess I don't actually love it on a personal level. I was more intrigued with the idea of what she was doing as a writer. It's a fascinating meta novel, but it's one I'd only recommend to serious readers fascinated with construction and unique ideas of what a novel can be.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: September 13, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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